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Macron meets Xi Jinping to strengthen EU-China relationship


French president Emmanuel Macron launched a charm offensive towards his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Monday, talking of multilateralism and cooperation and tip-toeing around subjects such as human rights.

In a meeting during a bilateral three-day state visit to France, Macron took the unprecedented step of inviting the German chancellor, Angela Merkel and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, to Paris for the talks.

The French government described it as a “high-level meeting on the challenges of multilateralism”. Officials said the presence of Merkel and Juncker for the state visit was unprecedented.

All four leaders stressed a wish for greater cooperation between the EU and China at a press conference afterwards. They also knowledged they were rivals and there were concerns about unfair competition and continuing coordination on climate change.

Macron wants to deepen EU ties with China while creating a more level playing field for trade. The French president thanked Xi for his support to counter climate change but also urged his Chinese counterpart to “respect the unity of the European Union and the values it carries in the world”.

Related: Italy and China in plan for new Silk Road-style trade network

Xi responded that a prosperous EU was in keeping with China’s vision for a multipolar world and said the two were advancing together despite suspicions.

As Macron spoke he frequently turned to Xi for a response; Xi looked straight ahead expressionless apparently listening to the translation. When Juncker, earlier pictured clasping Xi’s hands warmly as on the steps of the Elysée on Tuesday, spoke, the Chinese leader turned to him.

Xi Jinping and Jean-Claude Juncker. Photograph: Somer/News Pictures/Rex/Shutterstock

Juncker said: “China and Europe must and can do great things together. We are strategic partners and, yes, rivals, but competition among us is a good thing.” The commission president cut to the chase, urging Beijing to give EU companies the same access to Chinese markets as Chinese companies enjoy in the EU.

Earlier, Xi said France and China should build their relationship on “mutual trust, practical cooperation and friendly sentiments”. In his speech, he agreed there was competition between the EU and China and said this was positive.

He spoke of “win-win outcomes” between countries who explore ways of getting along with each other, based on “independence, mutual understanding, foresight and mutual benefit”. He added that China needs a united and prosperous Europe and urged it to adopt a coherent strategy in dealings with Beijing.

Related: What is China’s Belt and Road Initiative?

There are concerns in Europe about Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative, a Chinese plan involving development of infrastructure and investments in 152 countries that Beijing says will improve regional connections. Others see it as a push by China to dominate global affairs.

Xi began his six-day trip to Europe with a visit to Italy, followed by Monaco and France.

On Monday, Beijing and Paris signed deals worth around $40bn. China announced it would buy 290 A320 aircraft and 10 A350 aircraft from the European consortium Airbus.

François Godement, a senior adviser on Asia at the Paris-based thinktank, the Institut Montaigne said Macron’s call for Germany and EU representatives to attend the bilateral state visit was unprecedented but in line with Macron’s commitment to greater EU integration and reform.

“The meeting is also an answer to China’s very stubborn bilateralism and is meant to demonstrate a coordinated European stand,” Godement told the South China Morning Post.

France and Germany have lobbied for the EU to adopt policies to help European firms compete with China. The EU’s recently published strategy document, a 16-page report entitled EU-China – A Strategic Outlook, urges the EU to recognise China as an economic competitor and “adapt to changing economic realities and strengthen its own domestic policies and industrial base”.

The EU foreign policy leader, Federica Mogherini, told reporters the bloc’s position on China was “very complex and balanced”, but added that “China is also a competitor in certain fields and there is also a strong need from European Union member states to defend their interests, in particular when it comes to security or key infrastructure”.

A full China-EU summit will take place in Brussels on 9 April.

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Trump expands global gag rule that blocks US aid for abortion groups

The Trump administration has expanded its ban on funding for groups that conduct abortions or advocate abortion rights, known as the global gag rule, and has also cut funding to the Organisation of American States for that reason.

Related: How Trump signed a global death warrant for women | Sarah Boseley

The new policy was announced on Tuesday by secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who declared: “This is decent. This is right. I am proud to serve in an administration that protects the least among us.”

The Trump administration has already expanded the reach of the funding ban which dates back to the Reagan administration, to apply to all US healthcare assistance, totalling about $6bn.

The extension of the policy announced by Pompeo would not only cut funding to foreign non governmental organisations directly involved in abortions or abortion rights advocacy, but also those who fund or support other groups which provide or discuss abortion.

Critics of the policy, also known as the Mexico City rule, say it has led to deep cuts in funding for family planning, women’s and reproduction health programmes. Studies have shown that it has increased the number of abortions where the policy has been strictly enforced, by decreasing access to contraceptives and other family planning support. And by forcing women to seek backstreet abortions, the critics say it leads to more deaths of mothers and babies.

Aid groups have said that the reduction of funding for primary health clinics has affected treatment for other widespread diseases like TB, malaria, and HIV.

“Each iteration of the global gag rule has been blatantly coercive, both in intent and practice, and is moving forward in lock-step with the Trump administration’s non-stop assault on reproductive health services,” said Heather Boonstra, head of public policy at the Guttmacher Institute, a research and advocacy group on female and reproductive health.

“This ideologically driven policy undermines the very goals of US foreign aid programs by harming the health of people in developing countries, violating medical ethics, and trampling on democratic values.”

Pompeo rejected such criticisms on Tuesday as “just wrong”. He added: “The theory that somehow not protecting every human life is somehow destroying human life is perverse on its face.”

“This administration has shown that we can continue to meet our critical global health goals including providing healthcare for women while refusing to subsidising the killing of unborn babies,” he said.

Pompeo also said the state department would more strictly enforce a rule that bans funding for organisations that debate the issue of abortions, saying that would affect the Organisation of American States (OAS).

“In light of recent evidence of an abortion related advocacy by an organ of the OAS, I have directed to my team to include a provision in foreign assistance agreements with the OAS that explicitly prohibits the use of funds to lobby for or against abortions,” Pompeo said.

“The institutions of the OAS should be focused on addressing crises in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, not in advancing the pro abortion cause,” the secretary of state said. “And to ensure our message is heard loud and clear we will reduce our contributions to the OAS. Our reduction equals the estimated US share of possible OAS expenditures on these abortion related activities.”

Pompeo did not provide a dollar amount for the reduction of OAS contributions or name the OAS organ he was referring to. A letter signed by Republican senators in December, claimed that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Inter-American Commission on Women, were lobbying for the legalisation of abortion in Latin American countries where it is banned.

“This is really concerning,” said Shannon Kowalski, advocacy and policy director at the International Women’s Health Coalition. “What they are dong to do is restrict how human rights standards are interpreted to one that meets US views.

“We are worried they are the waters before applying the same policy to other organisations.”